ALLENDALE, S.C. --- James Hines was a giant -- a 6-foot-7, 300-pound preacher and funk musician so big that after he died in 2004, a macabre rumor began circulating in this small town that the undertaker had to cut off his legs to fit him in the coffin.
This week, after years of whispers, the Rev. Hines' body was exhumed, and the gruesome story appeared to be all too true.
The coroner's office said only that it had found "undesirable evidence," and a criminal investigation has been opened. But the Rev. Hines' widow said investigators told her his legs had been cut off between the ankle and calf and that his feet had been placed inside the casket.
"It's just like pulling the scab off an old sore. I was kind of like smoothing things out. But now it's like starting all over again," Ann Hines said Thursday, two days after investigators pulled the casket from the ground, lifted the lid, photographed the contents and returned it to the earth, all without leaving the graveyard.
Under South Carolina law, destroying or desecrating human remains is punishable by one to 10 years in prison.
Reached this week, a man who identified himself as the owner of Cave Funeral Home, which handled the funeral, declined to comment.
Mrs. Hines said she and her family went to the funeral home after her husband's death to make the final arrangements, and she picked out a standard-size casket. At the funeral, only the top half of the lid was open, showing the Rev. Hines from the chest up, she said. She said nobody ever suggested a bigger box.
Funeral directors sometimes pull up the knees or shift the padding in the coffin to make sure the body fits, but the best solution is usually a longer casket, said Doggett Whitaker, a past president of the National Funeral Directors Association..
"Just being upfront and honest with the family is the best path to take," he said.
He said bodies are usually measured and families are told where a corpse's head will rest in the casket. Longer caskets are routinely manufactured, though they cost more than standard ones.
Duffie Stone, the county prosecutor, would not comment on the investigation.
Around town, the Rev. Hines was an unforgettable figure, and not just because of his size. An albino black man, he performed for decades as a soul and funk guitarist.
He gave up what he called his instrument of sin when he found God in the early 1990s. But his pastor had heard the Rev. Hines' recordings and, convinced that the Rev. Hines should share his gift, took him to buy a new guitar.
Eventually, the Rev. Hines became a minister in Allendale, about 75 miles southwest of Columbia. He played his guitar during services at the church he built and on a nearby Christian radio station until his death from skin cancer at 60.
At his funeral, several people, including one of Mr. Hines' five children, said the casket looked too small. Mr. Hines was about 79 inches tall in his bare feet, according to his family.
After the funeral, the rumors began -- started, some say, by a former funeral home worker -- and it seemed as if all 3,700 people in town were talking about the burial.
Mrs. Hines said she threatened to sue Cave Funeral Home and the business agreed to settle out of court as long as she didn't tell anyone how much she received. She said workers never told her exactly what happened. She said she accepted the deal and tried to forget about the whole thing.
Eventually, someone called the South Carolina Board of Funeral Service, and the coroner and an investigator with the agency received the widow's permission to dig up the grave.